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Port Macquarie receives healthy economic report card

Port Macquarie is leading the North Coast charge with strong building approvals, a booming construction sector and rising visitor numbers – it’s no wonder more people want to call the Hastings home. Sovereign Hills spoke with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Strategy and Growth Director Jeffery Sharp about our positive report card and what the future holds.

Q: Over the past five years Port Macquarie-Hastings’ Gross Regional Product has steadily risen – to $4.78 billion in 2017, while other regions haven’t been so fortunate. What have been the key drivers?

A: We are in a fortunate position where we have a fairly diverse economic base and our local business and industry service not only our local population, but also sell a lot of goods and services out of our region. This all contributes to a range of opportunities for growth. That said, we are currently seeing a lot of the growth from a few key sectors – predominantly, construction, health care and education. Output in the construction sector, in particular, has literally doubled year on year (2016-2017), overtaking output in the Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services industry which has historically sat as our highest output industry.

Q: Is this construction sector growth forecast to continue, at this rate?

A: It would be great to have a crystal ball and a definitive answer to this! In recent years, we’ve seen a boost in construction locally with a range of large-scale infrastructure projects and also significant activity in new housing. We all acknowledge the cyclical nature of housing and construction and there is much discussion in the industry around how long we can sustain the current level of activity. What we do know is that our population growth is expected to continue to be strong and we will need growth in our local infrastructure and our housing supply, but the extremely high levels of activity we are seeing at the moment are not sustainable in the long term. The positive for us locally is that from a broader perspective we are positioned for more sustained growth, unlike many regional areas. Also, our diverse economic base and anticipated strong growth in other industry sectors will help soften the impact when a slowdown in construction does occur.

Q: The Port Macquarie-Hastings is the North Coast frontrunner in terms of building approvals (2016/2017) by quite a margin. Why such a standout performer?

A: We are quite unique in the volume of residential land we have had available for development, compared to like regional cities such as Coffs Harbour. As such, when the market picked up, local developers were in a good position to start releasing planned sub-divisions and capitalising on the demand. With the population growth stemming mainly from migration out of Sydney and surrounds and the appeal of our beautiful place, it’s perhaps not surprising! We’ve been popular with retirees for some time but more and more we are seeing families moving to the area to escape the ‘rat race’ and enjoy our more relaxed lifestyle and beautiful natural environment.

Q: Unemployment continues to decrease. And over the five years to May 2022, employment in the Mid North Coast SA4 region is projected to rise by 9,200 (up to 11%), the largest projected increase according to council’s Shape of the Future report. How has PMHC worked to help bring this about?

A: A large focus for Council and the Strategy and Growth Division is planning to ensure we can cater not only for our current community, but also to ensure a positive future as well. Whilst we can’t claim to be solely responsible for jobs growth, what we can do is focus on ensuring a ‘whole-of-place’ approach to support the region as a successful place to live and do business. Our strategic land use planning is key to ensuring we have a supply of residential, commercial and industrial land to cater for growth. Projects like our recent skills audit also help paint the picture of current and projected gaps that will support our local education institutions and employers, and help guide our work in attracting workers with the right skills to our region.

Q: And it seems more people don’t just want to live and work here, they want to visit too. Compared to the Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens and Shoalhaven regions, Port Macquarie was the only region to experience an increase in total visitor numbers. Why is this?

A: The 5.6% growth in our domestic visitor numbers in the last year is a great achievement! We work hard ensuring we are growing awareness of our destination to potential visitors through our major events and our destination marketing and PR, but we recognise that we can only do this successfully because of the great work being done by our local industry. Unlike many regional centres, we are seeing a lot of money invested in new and improved offerings for visitors. In fact, we’ve recently seen the local hospitality industry invest more than $60million into renovated food, beverage and accommodation facilities. Having great venues and things to see and do means we consistently have great tourism product to showcase and entice people to visit and keep coming back!

Q: What PMHC projects over the next 12 months and longer term are you most excited about?

A: We’ll be investing more than $57m in community projects over the next 12 months. In addition to the usual roads, stormwater, footpaths and recreation projects, there are some projects that will be absolutely fabulous for locals and visitors alike – the upgrade to the Port Macquarie Airport Terminal; upgrades to our coastal walk; stage 1 development of the new Hastings Regional Sports Facility and design for a new Port Macquarie pool to name a few.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead?

A: Our biggest challenge is undoubtedly ensuring that, in an environment of unprecedented growth, we protect all the things we love about our community, continue to provide great community services and plan and deliver for the future. We have done a lot of this planning and there is a lot more underway at the moment – planning for our future road network to ease congestion, ensuring we maintain our pristine environment, planning for essential services like water, stormwater and waste, and of course how we continue to build a vibrant and inclusive community through culture, events and support for community groups and services. It definitely means we’ll be busy, and with this challenge comes real opportunity in terms of how we create a great future for our community. That’s the thing that we as Council staff and community members are excited by!

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